Friday, January 29, 2016

Good sake from Niigata and drinking snacks 越の誉 純米大吟醸 槽搾り

Somehow I forgot to post this.  One evening in the first week of the new year (which is called "Matsu-no-uchi" 松の内 and considered to be still within a period of official New Year's cerebration in Japan) we still had some good stuff from the New Year's Osechi Box and other New Year items I made and I opened a special sake which was kept in the back of the refrigerator and I almost forgot that we had. This sake is called  "Koshi no Homare" (Pride of Niigata) Junmai daiginjo, funa-shibori 越の誉 純米大吟醸 槽搾りfrom Hara Brewery in Niigata 新潟原酒造.

I don't recall how I happen to have this sake. In any case, this was a good "daigin" with nice fruity and clean daigin flavors plus more depth to it from (?) a pleasant "umami" component. According to the brewery, this was pressed in the old traditional way in which fermented rice or "moromi" もろみ is put into cloth bags and pressed in a wooden vessel called "fune" 槽. The first sake that comes out without pressure is called "arabashiri" 荒走り. This sake is made from the middle of pressing called "nakabashiri" 中走りwhich is supposedly the best balanced sake you can have.

Anyway, good sake deserves good drinking snacks. The below was the first appetizers or otoshi I served. The left is a combination of daikon namasu (bottom), ikura salmon roe, Russian marinated salmon, boiled octopus leg, and kazunoko herring roe.

I also broiled tarako cod roe 焼きたらこ (only surface is cooked).

With these, we could have had quite a good amount of sake but since we had so much good food, I served this "Hassun" 八寸 assorted appetizers from the Osechi box. The marinated and grilled fish pieces were warmed up in a toaster oven which made them 100% better than stone-cold.

In this assortment, there are so many good snacks and everything went so well with the sake. Enjoying small morsels of different flavors and textures with good sake is by far our most favorite way of enjoying food and sake. We thought we were not a great fan of Niigata sake but this one was excellent and we really liked it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Chicken patty with dried fig and Gorgonzola いちじくとブルーチーズの松風焼き

Matsukaze-yaki 松風焼きis one of the classic new year's osechi dishes 御節料理. It is usually seasoned with miso and includes pine nuts 松の実 (the name of this dish means "pine breeze grill").  It is essentially ground chicken loaf/patty and many variations are possible. We tried replacing the pine nuts with walnuts, which gave it a very different flavor and color (gets darker) and we liked this variation. This year, I added one more variation which I saw on line, which is making it with dried fig and gorgonzola cheese.

The combination of blue cheese and sweet dried figs is indeed great and makes it more "Western" in flavor. I served by it by itself with red wine which was a good combination.

Another time I served it with Champagne. It was one of many other items on the plate including stuffed fish cake (one with cod roe and shiso leaves and the other with thin slices of radish and guacamole), boiled octopus, herring roe, shibukawa-ni chestnuts, datemaki Japanese omelet, kumquat in syrup. (these items came from the Sushi taro osechi box combined with the dishes I made for New Year).

I also made kimisu 黄身酢 and dressed the octopus.

We had Champagne Lemile Leclerc a Mardeuil Brut Reserve NV with this. The champagne had a nice deep straw color and  was a bit assertive with a nice acidity and minerals with some fruity flavor (green apple etc) and quite good and went perfectly with all these assorted snacks.

Ground chicken: About 400grams.
Dried figs: We used dried mini mission fig. The amount was arbitrary but as fa as I can tell, the more the better.
Gorgonzola cheese: we tried American made from goat cheese (mild) and one from whole cow's milk (stronger). Both worked fine but we liked the stronger one, crumbled the amount arbitrary.
Egg: two large
Olive oil: 2 tsp.

Directions: Using a silicon spatula, I mixed the ground chicken, gorgonzola cheese, dried figs, and eggs and olive oil. I oiled the bottom of a small rectangular baking sheet lined with parchment paper. I spread the mixture to make about half an inch thick layer (see below).

I baked it in a toaster oven (in convection oven mode) preheated at 350F for 20 minutes or until done.*

Because of the parchment paper lining, it came out easily in one sheet. I cut it into  rectangles.  This is a totally new flavor for this dish. Sweet nutty dried figs and salty and a bit sharp Gorgonzola is indeed nice flavor combination and made this dish more Western than Japanese. It goes well with wine or Champagne.

*This was the second try. I made this in a rectangular frying pan covered with aluminum foil as the original recipe suggested. It became sort of steam/baked and produced a large amount of liquid and when I opened the lid, it was floating in the liquid. All the cheese appeared to have leached out and it was dry and did not taste good. My toaster over baking method worked much better. If I am going with a frying pan method, I will not cover it while it is cooking.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Salmon fries 鮭のフライ

Although we have salmon frequently, I have never made this dish before. It is a rather common dish in Japan. Since we had extra raw salmon left over after making the new year's salmon dishes, I decided to make salmon fry especially since my wife said she has never had it. I served it with my potato salad and cucumber onion with dill salad. It is usually served with tartar sauce, but I served it with just wedges of lemon.

I made rather smallish fries with a nice light and crunchy outside crust.

Making this dish is rather straight forward and there is really no recipe. I made about 1/2 inch thick salmon pieces (skin removed; I used the skin to make hand rolls later). I seasoned the salmon pieces with salt and pepper. I breaded it as per usual using flour, egg water and panko bread crumbs (see below)

I deep fried it in 350F oil for few minutes turning once. Since it was not thick it cooked rather quickly. I drained the excess oil and served immediately while it was piping hot (below).

This was a pleasant surprise for my wife. It was nicely light and crunchy outside (or "saku saku" サクサク in Japanese expression) and nicely cooked juicy salmon inside. My wife always liked pan fried or grilled salmon with crispy skin, but this is the second best way to cook salmon for her. The cucumber onion dill salad especially went well with this.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Another three appetizers お通し3種類

Here are other examples of drinking snacks--3 kinds. From left to right are blanched okra, burdock root salad and edamame.

I made the okra dish just before serving. The rest were prepared ahead of time.

1. Okura
Most of the time the okra I see at our regular grocery store is blemished and generally not good. This time, when I went to the grocery store, which is not our usual one, for Pasteurized eggs, I saw really fresh good looking okra and could not resist buying it. I first rolled the okra on the cutting board with Kosher salt to remove the fine hairs on the surface. I washed off the salt and blanched them in salted boiling water for 15 seconds and then cooled them in ice water. After they were cooled, I blotted the water from the surface and kept them in a sealed container in the refrigerator.

Just before serving, I sliced them into thin slices and dressed with soy sauce and dried bonito flakes.

2. Burdock root
I made this at the same time I made Kimpira. Instead of  braising the burdock root, I boiled it in salted boiling water for a few minutes. I let it cool down and dressed in mayonnaise with a bit of soy sauce.

3. Edamame
This is just boiled frozen edamame. Since I had broth left over from the simmered atsuage  and nagaimo dish, I just cut off the ends of the pods and soaked the edamame in the broth. I kept it for a few days in the refrigerator.

This threesomes was not bad (but not great either). Although I liked the okra, my wife did not like the residual sliminess (in general okra is not one of  her favorites). The burdock root salad was good but I think the classic kimpira is better. The broth did not season the edamame as much as I thought it would. As a starter, however, this was more than adequate.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Teriyaki chicken breast with shio-koji 塩麹照り焼きチキン

This was another impromptu dish. It was made using the split chicken breast from which I made the tenderloins cooked with miso glaze. The breast meat was marinated in shio-koji 塩麹, soy sauce, and mirin for 5 days. This is a sort of teriyaki chicken breast but because of the shio-koji, it has a unique flavor. In addition, the shio-koji tenderized the meat and kept it moist. I served this with my wife's holiday bread stuffing (put in a small ramekin and baked for 10 minutes to warm it up) and blanched green beans sautéed in butter.

I first cooked the chicken breasts skin side down in a frying pan with a small amount of olive oil for 7 minutes and then flipped them over. I cooked them meat side down for another 5 minutes and placed the pan in a preheated 350F oven for 10 minutes or until the thickest portion of the meat reached 160F (below). Because of the sugar in the mirin, the surface of the meat became dark (although it looks burnt in the picture it was not). I let it rest for 5 minutes before slicing.

For a dish without any recipe, this was a good dish. The chicken was moist and flavorful. We had leftovers which we used for sandwiches the following week.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Chicken tenderloins with miso glaze 鶏ささみの味噌焼き

Often, our eyes are bigger than our stomach. We frequently buy food thinking we will cook it over the weekend but end up not cooking it because we either have too many other dishes for the week or we run out of time. This was one such weekend. Although I had bought split chicken breasts (bone in skin on), we did not cook it. Instead, I removed the meat from bone and separated the tenderloins from the breast meat. I marinated the tenderloins in sake and the breast meat in shio-koji, soy sauce and mirin. I placed the two packages in the meat drawer of the refrigerator. I cooked this chicken tenderloin dish on a subsequent weekday evening as a starter.

I often grill the tenderloins with pickled plum paste and perilla but this time I used sweet miso glaze.

I also garnished it with chopped chives.

Miso glaze: This is similar to the sauce I use for dengaku. I mixed miso, sugar, sake and mirin with grated ginger and a splash of sesame oil and mixed it in a small sauce pan over the low heat until everything was combined and the consistency was spreadable but not runny.

I skewered the tenderloins and grilled them in the toaster oven for 5 minutes on each side. I checked for doneness then smeared the miso glaze on one side and put it back under the broiler until the miso glaze bubbled and became fragrant.

This was nothing special but perfect starter for the evening.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Wheat berry salad 全粒小麦のサラダ

This is one of my wife's grain salads which we often include as a side in our brown bag lunches with our sandwiches. Wheat berry is the entire wheat kernel sans hull and is considered healthier than refined grain (milled wheat berry is whole wheat flour 全粒小麦). It has a nice crunchy texture and we like this salad.

We added sweet dried cranberries called craisins to give it a sweet savory flavor. The chick peas make it more interesting. Olives give a burst of salty flavor.

1 1/2 cups wheat berry
1 cup of Craisins
1 large can of chick peas (with soft outer shell removed)
1/2 cup of olives, assorted chopped,
1 cup walnuts toasted and brown skin rubbed off
1/2 red onion finely diced
3 ribs of celery chopped
parsley chopped

Dressing: We used our usual honey mustard dressing which is a combination of Dijon mustard, honey, rice vinegar (1 tbs each) mixed and then add olive oil in thin stream while whisking. I stop adding oil as the dressing reaches the consistency and taste I want (probably 1 cup). I seasoned it with salt and black pepper.

Toast the wheat berry in the toaster oven until they turn darker brown and smell fragrant (they may also start popping and that means they are done). Quickly rinse in cold water. Put in a bowel and cover with several inches of water. Cover and put in the refrigerator over night. Next day drain off the water put into a sauce pan with 3 1/2 cups of chicken stock. Bring to a boil then cook on simmer for 50 minutes. When they are done they should be firm but chewy. Drain any excess liquid.

After the wheat berry has cooled, add other ingredients (below).

This salad has a nice nutty flavor and chewiness. The other ingredients give it contrasts in texture such as the difference in the softness of the chick peas and the crunch of the wheat berry and little bursts of alternate intense flavor such as the saltiness from the olives and sweetness from the craisins.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Pork chop "Tonkatsu" ロースとんかつ

I have posted pork tenderloin cutlet or "hirekatsu" ヒレカツ sometime ago. This time I made tonkatsu from pork chops which is called "rosu" ロース in Japanese. I assume it is derived from parts of pork used for "roasting". I think  Japanese "rosu"  pork is a loin and usually does not contain any bones such as ribs or shoulder blade. Compared to "filet", this cut has more fat and is considered to be the original pork cutlet in Japan. In any case, I used bone-less pork chops here.

I served it with sauteed spinach seasoned with Dijon mustard and wedges of tomato.

Although the chance of trichinosis in US pork is very low, I do not take any chances and cooked the thickest center portion to 140F.

There is no real recipe. If the pork chops have a layer of fat at the edge, I usually cut into the fat (but not the meat below) in half inch intervals. l seasoned these with salt and pepper. I dredged them in flower, egg water, and panko bread crumbs. I deep fried them in 350F peanut oil for 5 minutes and then turned them over and cooked another 3 minutes. I  make sure the center of the thickest part is 140F using either the "cut and peek"  method or using a instant digital thermometer.

This looked really large but we ended up basically eating it all. We like "rosu" tokatus. It has more "porky" flavor and the layers of fat are sweet and succulent.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Panettone Italian Christmas bread パネトネクリスマスブッレド

When my wife baked Stollen bread for Christmas, which is Germanic, she also wanted to make Italian Christmas bread, Panettone, to cover all fronts but got delayed since she did not have appropriate baking vessels. I quickly went on line and ordered Panettone paper molds in two sizes. This delayed her baking Panettone but she managed to bake it on Christmas eve.

Since she did not have enough time before Christmas, instead of a yeast recipe which requires making sponge the day ahead, she chose a "quick bread" Panettone recipe.

It has very good flavors both savory and sweet the bread was excellent.

She made the larger one for us to enjoy and smaller ones to give as holiday gifts for friends. 

Ingredients (see above):
6 cups AP flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 cups milk
4 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 sticks butter melted and cooled (one cup)
the grated lemon peel from 2 lemons
2 tsp crushed anise seed
1/2 cup slivered almonds toasted
1/2 cup raisins
2 tsp anise extract
2 tsp lemon extract

In a small bowl mix together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a mixing bowl beat the eggs and sugar until fluffy and light yellow. Beat in the butter until it forms an almost mayonnaise consistency. Then add the lemon peel, crushed anise seeds, slivered almonds, raisins and extracts. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture alternating with the milk. Fill the molds about 2/3 full. Bake in a 325 degree oven. The small ones took about 45 minutes. The larger was about an hour or until it tests for done. (Sorry the times aren't more exact. I wrote them down on a sticky note and then promptly lost it.)

This is a very festive bread. The texture is very rich and all the flavors come through. Happy Holidays!!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Unboxing Sushi Taro Osechi Box すし太郎の御節重箱

Again this year,  we got an osechi box 御節重箱 from Sushi Taro すし太郎. In addition to the box, we also got hand-cut "Juwari-soba" 手打ち十割そば for "Toshikoshi soba" or "End-of-the-year soba" 年越し蕎麦 and even a desert. The desert was a Japanese style black bean steamed bread with "maccha" green tea 抹茶 and white sweet bean paste (I may be wrong just a guess, see the last picture).  This was how unwrapping and unboxing went on new year's eve.

The menu is in both Japanese and English. The soba and steamed bread are not listed on the menu.

The upper box looked like this (picture below). All the "good luck" new year foods and more. Miso marinated kazunoko 数の子の味噌漬け, and baby mackerel nanban 豆鯵南蛮漬け were among some of the new items this year. I have never tasted miso-marinated kazunoko. It had a nice sweet nutty flavor. This one also had a really nice crunchy texture.

This was the lower box (picture below). Among the simmered dishes simmered conch/whelk バイ貝の柔らか煮 was new and very good. This year's daikon namasu 大根なます included sweet dried persimmon. This combination is also a first for me and the sweetness and soft texture of the persimmon created a good contrast. (I made a more traditional daikon namasu, myself, this year).

The plate below shows the first serving of the new year's eve feast. Everything was good as we sipped cold sake. The monk fish liver terrine あん肝豆腐 (front row second from the left) was our favorite as before. But everything on the plate was a treat. 

And we went back for seconds. The version of matsukaze-yaki 松風焼き (square chicken loaf) was sherry flavored. Indeed, we could taste the sherry and it was a pleasing variation. This year, we ourselves tried a variation on matsukaze-yaki including one with dried fig and Gorgonzola cheese (subject for future post). The daikon namasu  with dried persimmon 干し柿 is shown on the right in the back), we really liked it 

Although I was thinking about serving the soba as an ending dish or "shime" 〆 we had to pass on it because we were quite full. (We never seem to be able to eat soba on new year's eve for the same reason every year--too full). 

On the second day of the new year, we had the soba. We knew Chef Kitayama 北山料理長 was into making hand-cut "Juwari" soba from 100% buckwheat flour without any binders or "tsunagi" つなぎ such as wheat flour or mountain yam. "Juwari soba" is indeed the pinnacle of soba making prowess that only a real soba master can accomplish. His soba was just such an accomplishment. It was slightly thicker than usual soba, but had a more delicate texture with subtle soba flavor. I made warm soba with cooked vegetables or shippoku soba しっぽくそば but in the haste of enjoying it before the soba got soggy, I completely forgot to take a picture. The soba was fantastic. But I did take a picture of his steamed bread or "mushi pan" 蒸しパン which we had as a dessert with our short-drawn espresso (green beans are from Sweet Marias, Espresso Workshop#37 blend, home roasted to full city roast).

This was a perfect combination. Although I am sure green tea instead of espresso could also have been an excellent accompaniment, the contrast of the coffee really accentuated the flavor of green tea in the bread. This was indeed an elegant desert.

Friday, January 1, 2016

A happy new year 2016 明けましておめでとう 2016

Happy New Year 2016! This December has been record-breaking warm in the DC area with temperatures in the 60's and 70's. On new year's day, it was more seasonal with temperatures of 42F (5.5C) cloudy sky and a rare glimpse of sun through the clouds. The nightly low however at 22 F was a rude reminder that this is winter after all.  As usual, I put new years decorations in the tokonoma 床の間 of our "tea" room. 

Since this is the year of monkey, we displayed two monkeys; one is made of fired clay and is a bell called "Do-rei" or 土鈴 and the other is made of wood and is a part a set of all 12 zodiac figures.

We had cappuccinos and toast for breakfast to gently slide into new year's day after the late night celebration of welcoming in the New Year. We had New Year's soup or "Ozouni" お雑煮 as a lunch. We did not open this year's osechi box 御節重箱 from Sushi Taro (yet) and I served only those dishes I made.

The only item I did not prepare myself on this plate is the herring roe or kazunoko 数の子 (left in the back). Since I could not get salted herring roe in time this year I bought already seasoned and prepared roe from our Japanese grocery store. Compared to what I usually prepare, it was too sweetly seasoned and had a strange soft texture. The next item in clock wise order is  "Matsukaze-yaki" 松風焼き chicken loaf; one garnished with green "ao-nori" 青のり is traditional with pine nuts and the plain one is with walnuts. This year I also made this with gorgonzola and dried fig which is a subject for a separate post. The next is kelp salmon rolls 鮭の昆布巻き, which was very good, much better than the commercial ones (this is my wife's opinion and at the risk of not being modest, I agree with her). Next (the right most) is salmon nanaban 鮭の南蛮 and front right is "Russian" pickled salmon ロシア漬け and datemaki 伊達巻 Japanese omelet which I make with hanpen fish cake はんぺん and eggs.

I served daikon namasu 大根なます  with boiled octopus slices ゆでだこ and ikura いくら.

I served Ozoni お雑煮 in a lidded real Japanese lacquer bowl which was given to us a long time ago for use on just such an occasion by my mother.

This year, I did not add chicken (intentionally) and shrimp (forgot). Mochi もち rice case was wrapped in deep fried tofu pouch as before but it can not be seen under other items. The soup also included shiitake mushroom, daikon, carrot, burdock root, freeze dried tofu called "shimidoufu" 凍み豆腐, snow peas, and red and white new year's fish cakes. I made Dashi broth from "Dashi pack" (kelp and bonito) and seasoned with mirin and light colored soy sauce.

As a result of the record-breaking warm December in DC area, our plum tree has been in bloom for several weeks.

Our plum tree has been known to blossom in February and we have pictures of it covered in snow but plum blossoms in December and January is a first. Unfortunately due to the warm weather some of the cherry trees in the DC area have been fooled into blooming prematurely. While we know the plum tree can sustain freezing temperatures after blooming we are not so sure about the cherry trees. It has indeed been strange weather--courtesy of el Nino.

We will be hitting the Sushi Taro Osechi box this evening.